Chapter 23 : Chapter twenty-three - Heaven. Or Hell.
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Chapter twenty-three – Heaven. Or Hell.
Turn the page, Gwen. You need to turn the page.
My subconscious seemed to be screaming at me, I registered that much, but I could hardly hear it. My eyes were fixed on the centre spread of the morning’s Daily Prophet, a blank look on my face that had been there for over fifteen minutes already. The two big, moving pictures were gazing at me, with equal empty looks on their faces, but I had barely given them a second glance. My concentration was on the smaller picture on the right side of the spread, the familiar man staring back at me with a sad look in his eyes.
There were a dozen feelings swirling through my head at that moment, and I wanted to leash them all out at the picture, but none of them were able to push through the emptiness of my expression. I had cried too much lately because of him and my body refused to waste anymore of its energy on that. He didn’t deserve it, he didn’t deserve anything from me, not even my anger. I didn’t want to waste another minute thinking about him, but somehow I just couldn’t turn the page.
I hadn’t even glanced at the article around the picture, but I already knew what it would say. Reciting the story from five years ago, it would undoubtedly be full of crap. There would also be many mentions of me, speculating how relieved I must have felt when I heard that he wasn’t the one getting out.
I wanted to snort at that. If they only knew how fast my relieved feelings had turned into confused ones.
Harry’s words echoed in my mind amongst my conflicted thoughts. Dad didn’t want to get out, he had said he deserved every year he had left. Why? Why would he say something like that? I refused to believe he actually meant it. But what could his reasons be then? I couldn’t think of any that made sense.
A quick image of me confronting dad in his prison cell flashed through my mind, but I shoved it right back where it had come from. I would never do that, I could never do that. I wasn’t strong enough.
So instead I just stared at the picture, shouting all the questions at his image even though my face showed none of them, my expression frozen.
Even the sound of my front door opening and closing wasn’t enough to pull me out of my trance. “What’s up?” James’s voice questioned a little while later.
When I didn’t respond, he stalked lazily behind me, wrapping his arms around my waist and resting his jaw on my shoulder, glancing at what I was doing. I heard his sharp intake near my left ear, and then the shuffle of paper when he pulled the newspaper from my reach.
That did make me hem a little, but I didn’t move. I just stared at the same spot on the table where the picture had been a moment ago, listening to the sounds behind me. I heard James rip the centre spread off, tossing the rest aside before crumpling the page in his hands into a ball. His hoody made a small shuffling sound when he pulled his wand out of his pocket, and then the crackle of flames filled my ears as he torched the piece of parchment. From the corner of my eye I could see him toss it in the sink and let it burn there, my nostrils sensing the acrid smell of burning paper.
The lengths he would go to when he thought he was protecting me. I wanted to point out it was only a piece of paper, it couldn’t do me any harm, but I remained silent.
“You like torturing yourself?” James asked then, appearing next to me and leaning against the counter.
I smiled. “Oh yes, that’s my little secret, I torture myself whenever you’re not around,” I replied before realising how true that actually was. Because I was torturing myself, with my feelings for him.
My little ‘joke’ didn’t seem to amuse him, he just stared at me with an unreadable expression. I rolled my eyes.
“Oh come on, I was just reading the paper. The whole thing surprised me and I was startled for a moment, the exact moment you walked in.”
He grunted, apparently buying my crappy-arse explanation. “Since when have you ordered the Prophet?” he questioned, changing the subject.
“Since I wanted to know what shit they were printing about the baby scandal,” I replied casually, drawing invisible figures on the counter with my index finger.
“And?” he said, making me glance in his direction with an amused expression. Seriously? He would voluntarily talk about Kat and the baby, just to get dad out of my mind?
“You look surprisingly good in all the stories,” I told him. “They’re actually making it sound like the whole idea was preposterous, that nobody should’ve believed it in the first place. You know they could’ve gone with a completely different route, knowing your reputation, but instead they’re making you all honourable and responsible.”
“Well, the Prophet was due to get one story straight. Especially the part about me being honourable and responsible. And the part where I’m good looking, they nailed that one.”
Smug git, twisting my words like that.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Al, I thought you were James,” I said as innocently as possible, unable to subdue the grin.
“Oi!” he complained immediately, making me laugh out loud.
“Well it’s true. Al’s the honourable and responsible one of you two. You forget that I know you.” I beamed at him. “Sometimes even better than yourself,” I added, knowing he was about to protest.
“Clearly not if you think Al’s better looking than me,” he shot back.
“I did not say that,” I pointed out. “Although he does have those sparkly emerald eyes…” the rest of my sentence was lost in a whelp as James suddenly grabbed me, lifting me over his shoulder.
“You, good lady, are going to have to pay for that comment. And don’t even try to protest, you claim you know me better than I do, so you should know it’s pointless,” he said, marching forwards.
I laughed until I realised where he was heading, then I started my protests. “No, seriously, James! I spent an hour fixing my hair this morning! I don’t have the time to do it again!” I shouted when he stepped inside the bathroom.
“Then you should’ve thought that before, don’t you think?”
I screamed, trying to wiggle my way out of his arms, but his grip was tight. I couldn’t get away. I tried even harder when he flicked the shower on, leaning closer so I was almost under the running water. He held me there for a while, letting me struggle and squirm with no effort.
Then he started to laugh. “Oh come on, did you really think I would do it?” James asked, letting me down on the floor. “I know all about your hair problems, I couldn’t be that cruel.”
I punched his chest, muttering profanities as I tried to push myself past him, but he blocked my way.
“Although – I could still change my mind…” he said, dragging his sentence as he took a step closer, pushing me towards the shower.
“James!” I squeaked when I felt my elbow get soaked.
He chuckled, taking the step back, letting me get further away from all the wetness.
“Hmph, silly girl. Fancying my brother over me,” he said, trying to scold me, but his amusement was shining through.
“I did not say that,” I pointed out again, feeling my soaked elbow.
“Oh, then what did you say?”
“Only that he was the responsible one.”
“Is that so?”
“And the good looking?”
“Would be you,” I admitted reluctantly.
His face lit up with a grin. “Ah, so you fancy me then?”
I didn’t reply, just glared at him with my mouth in a tight pout.
“Interesting,” he said and his eyes twinkled in the most curious way. I was drawn to them immediately, momentarily forgetting everything else around me, before forcing myself to snap out of it.
“Git,” I muttered, hiding my feelings behind an eye roll and a smile, and pushed myself past him. This time he let me, chuckling behind me. I was glad that my hair was down, only hoping that he didn’t realise I was blushing once again.
I tried not to think about that little event as I marched towards the kitchen where I had left my wand. But as I was drying my elbow and my socks that were completely drenched, the thoughts invaded my mind.
What was all that again?
It wasn’t the first time in the past few days that I had pondered the question. Something felt different – he felt different. He was constantly hugging and teasing me – not that he didn’t do that normally, but it was even more than usual. There were also several occasions when I caught him staring at me for no apparent reason. I had tried to brush it off, telling myself that he had just found out something he didn’t know about me, that he was only trying to figure out if there was something else he might have missed too.
I had tried to confront him of those, sending a questioning gaze in his direction every time I caught him looking at me. But he would only smile, like he was enjoying a private joke when he turned his eyes away in amusement, leaving me with a tingling feeling. And a whole lot of confusion.
I hated it and loved it at the same time.
And then I felt guilty for letting thoughts of James fill my head again when I should be thinking about Joshua.
My mind was buzzing with my conflicted thoughts. How was it possible to have such strong feelings for two different men? Shouldn’t one of them drown out the other?
It was much harder now than it had been in the past, mainly because I got to spend so little time with Joshua. He was constantly working and my days were spent with James and his newly found attitude.
But that would change today, I reassured myself. It was Joshua’s last day at work before his week-long vacation, he would be home waiting once I got back from Hogwarts. And finally he would reveal what he had planned for us!
I had been anxiously waiting for that information, dying to know, but forcing myself to respect his wishes and not to pry about it.
“You ready soon? We should be in the Three Broomsticks in five minutes,” James asked, interrupting my pondering.
I nodded. “Yeah, just give me a second,” I said, rushing to grab my shoes and pull them on. “Okay, let’s go,” I added when I was done.
We exited my flat. After I’d closed the door, I turned to look at James who was standing in the middle of the landing, holding his hand out for me.
I furrowed. “What?”
“Side-along apparition,” he informed.
I stopped in my tracks, staring at him with wide eyes. “You’re actually offering? What happened to just grabbing me and not bothering to say a word?”
He shrugged. “I know you don’t like it when I do that.”
Even more suspicious. He never cared about that before.
I narrowed my eyes at him. “You’re up to something.”
He chuckled. “Really? And what would that be?”
“I don’t know. But I’m going to find out.”
“Well, do tell me when you figure it out because I’d like to know too,” he said, reaching towards my hand.
I took it, still eyeing him doubtfully when the familiar sensation of apparition threatened to squeeze the life out of me.
We popped into the middle of the main street in lovely Hogsmeade village. It was odd seeing the normally busy little village so deserted, but I guessed it was due to the icy wind that immediately forced me to button up my jacket as we rushed forward towards the entrance of the pub.
James held the door open, letting me enter the crowded public house. The main room was filled with many familiar faces that greeted us as we passed. I smiled back at a few of them on our way towards the counter where two of our old professors were waiting for everyone to arrive.
One thing Coach had first failed to mention about this trip to Hogwarts was that James and I weren’t actually coming alone. There were one or two players from each team in the British and Irish Quidditch Leagues here, all participating in the same event.
Coach had only told us about that yesterday, faking an innocent look, saying that he was sure he had mentioned it before. Which he hadn’t. I would’ve remembered a little detail like that, because then I wouldn’t have panicked so much. Sure, I was still a little nervous, thinking about standing in front of all those students, but the thought of being there only to give them some Quidditch tips was very reassuring.
“Neville,” James greeted as we reached the counter.
“James, Gwen, hello!” The fair-haired man was an old friend of the Potter family, so I had gotten to know him very well over the years. “Harry told me that you two would be attending our little event.”
James continued to chat with Neville while I turned my attention to the other professor who was present.
“Hello, Professor Fawcett,” I greeted my former charms professor who also happened to be my favourite out of the entire Hogwarts faculty.
“Miss Miller, so lovely to see you again,” the woman replied with a warm smile. “I understand you’ve recovered quite well from your accident.”
“Yeah, I’m getting there.”
I chatted with her for a good ten minutes, the only interruptions being a few brief moments when some other Quidditch players arrived and she had to mark them on her list. Then, when everyone who was supposed to be there was present, the two professors announced that we would start heading towards the castle.
The familiar Hogwarts carriages were waiting for us near the pub. James and I entered one with two Montrose Magpies’ players, Carrie Wilson and Andy Cornell. The latter seemed to shudder as he slipped inside, and I wondered whether he could actually see the winged, skeletal horses that were pulling the carriages. I didn’t ask. Judging by the look on his face, he didn’t seem to want to talk to anyone at that moment.
Carrie kept the conversation up for the whole trip, batting her lashes at James, who was sitting next to me, pretending to be oblivious to her attempts at flirting. He once again surprised me with that. It was just so odd to watch him behave that way, when I was so used to having to hide my jealousy.
Although this time it shouldn’t have been such a big surprise. Well sure, the non-flirting, but the fact that he wasn’t interested. After Hogwarts, I couldn’t remember James ever dating a Quidditch player – one of the reasons why I knew he wasn’t attracted to me. He was more into girls with waspy waistlines and long, skinny legs than the sporty ones.
Carrie didn’t seem to realise that and she kept talking and talking, making it very clear she was interested up to a point when even Andy seemed to snap out of his horrified state and shake his head in embarrassment for his teammate. But James remained passive, only smiling a little and politely answering Carrie’s questions.
She didn’t stop until we reached the castle and stepped out of the carriage. That was when James wrapped his arm around my shoulders. I rolled my eyes as Carrie stomped away from us.
James glanced at me. “What?” he asked.
“Then what’s with all the furrowing and the eye rolling?”
“You know.” I glanced after Carrie to give him a clue.
His eyes followed my line of sight. “I don’t date Quidditch players,” he replied when he understood what I meant, confirming my earlier thoughts.
“I know, but you didn’t even flirt.”
“You want me to flirt?” His left eyebrow shot up out of curiosity.
No! Definitely not!
That’s what I wanted to answer, but instead I said: “That’s not the point. You just always do, and now – it’s weird.”
James let out a little hem. “That’s how it is now.”
“Because I don’t want them to get the wrong impression.”
“But you used to do it before, even when you didn’t mean it.”
“Well, I decided to change that. Better get used to it,” he replied with a small grin before starting to walk toward the spot where the other players had gathered.
I followed, frowning a little at the whole subject. What was that supposed to mean?
Professors Longbottom and Fawcett were standing with a short man whom they introduced as Headmaster Atticus Tremlett. Tremlett was a relatively new addition to the Hogwarts staff since he hadn’t been there in our time. He was awfully familiar looking, but I couldn’t recall why before James whispered in my ear that he had to be of some relation to the bassist of the Weird Sisters, an old, but still popular wizarding band.
The headmaster led us straight towards the Quidditch pitch. Along the way, I glanced towards Hagrid’s hut, wondering if he was home. I’d always been fond of the old gamekeeper; it would be nice to see him.
The loud sounds echoing from the distance turned my attention back towards the pitch. We could hear the commotion already, even though we weren’t that close yet. It sounded like the whole school had gathered there.
I was right. The stands were filled with students, all cheering when we walked in. I waved at them a little awkwardly; then again when the Headmaster started to introduce us and my name came up. The crowd cheered equally loudly for each of us, but I don’t think it surprised anyone when Tremlett said James’s name and the stands burst into an ear-splitting roar.
James was very nonchalant about it, waving lazily to them, his attention elsewhere. He was staring at a large group of students that I hadn’t noticed before, standing nearby, all dressed in their Quidditch gear and clutching their brooms excitedly. “Oh, this is going to be so much fun,” he said delightedly. “I didn’t realise we were actually getting to train with them.”
I continued to listen to the Headmaster’s speech, learning that this whole event was thanks to a bunch of broom manufacturers who would kindly donate the new brooms the players would be using today to Hogwarts, replacing the school’s decades-old fleet.
I was a bit bummed out when I realised that the others would be flying today and I couldn’t. I was still restricted to flying only when Healers were present. But that mood lifted quickly when I realised I wasn’t the only one. There were three other players who were also recovering from accidents and under strict orders to keep their feet on the ground.
James gave me a sad little smile when we parted. He went to pick a broom for himself and I joined the other injured players. That’s when I first noticed Alex Lynch, my ‘lovely’ ex. He was hovering in the air a few feet away, talking to his teammate. When he saw me looking, he winked and I, loyal to my customs, rolled my eyes. He said something to his mate, then started towards me, but didn’t manage to reach me before the Headmaster called for our attention again.
Alex shrugged apologetically, then turned his broom around and returning to his friend. I sighed out of relief. Sure it would’ve been cool to talk to him again, but it might’ve also been a bit awkward. And a really bad idea since James was in the vicinity.
We were divided into pairs and each assigned to a different group. We would be circling around the arena the whole day, working with every Quidditch player and offering tips on how to improve their flying and other techniques.
I examined the first group that was standing in front of Carl Anderson – my partner for the day – and I. They were all small, probably in their first or second year. Some of them seemed to be grabbing their brooms a bit uncertainly, showing they weren’t very confident in their abilities. But three of them stuck out to me: a tiny girl and two boys. I could tell immediately that they were more experienced than the rest.
Carl started talking, explaining that we would be doing some throwing exercises since neither of us was allowed on our brooms. He glanced a few times in my direction, to see if I wanted to step in, but I nodded for him to continue. Luckily he was a chatty fellow and didn’t mind.
I only piped in a few times with the first group, adding bits and pieces to topics that Carl didn’t cover properly.
The kids started to divide into pairs, each grabbing a scarlet Quaffle from the basket nearby. They climbed their brooms, hovering only few feet above the ground as they started tossing them to each other, easily at first, but developing their throws with every pass.
‘Relax your shoulders’ was every other sentence that came out of my mouth.
I was examining the two boys I had noticed at the beginning, passing the ball to each other with a good technique when a small voice peeped right next to me. “Are they letting you play soon?”
“Oh – I,” I stuttered a bit, startled as I hadn’t noticed the tiny girl appear on my side. “I hope so. I still have some training to do.”
“Well I hope so too. You’re my favourite player. I’ve seen all your games before I started at Hogwarts.”
“Really? Wow, that’s cool,” I replied, smiling. “You a Portree fan then?”
She nodded eagerly, blushing a bit. It reminded me of my first meeting with Ginny and how speechless I had been then.
“Are you on a team already?” I asked, taking a proper look at the girl. She wasn’t wearing team robes like most of the students, just her sweats with pads wrapped on them.
She shook her head. “No, I’m just a first year. But I’m going to make it next year when they allow me to try out.”
I smiled widely at that. “That’s good. Confidence always helps. And practise, a lot of practise.”
She nodded. “I’ll remember that.”
“Then I wish you all the luck in the world. Now go practise with your partner, I have to check on how the others are doing. We can chat later.”
She nodded again, then hurried towards a small boy who was beaming proudly at her for being so brave.
I spent the next few hours sharing different throwing techniques and other useful little tips for the different groups. It was actually a lot easier and more fun than I had anticipated, but everything purely Quidditch related always was. None of the kids were there to ask any stupid questions about rumours, even though there were many who didn’t know shit about Quidditch, only joining because they wanted to meet the players. But they all were eager to learn, leaving the other stuff outside the pitch and I was very grateful for that.
When our practise with the last group was over and the kids finally started to scatter around me, I shook my arm, stretching it from all the exercise. It still felt a bit stiff compared to before the accident, but it was nothing that more practise couldn’t get rid of.
I glanced up in the sky, shielding my eyes from the bright sunlight. I easily spotted James, still circling in the air, handing out tips to his eager listeners. A smile rose to my lips as I watched him enjoy every moment of it.
“Are you avoiding me?” a sudden comment from my left startled me.
I spun my head around to see Alex, leaning against his broom nearby. He had the familiar grin on his lips and his hair messy from all the flying. I watched him try to flatten it.
“No,” I replied. “Why would I?” But as I said it, I could remember the New Year’s Party, where I had in fact been evading him.
“I don’t know. I just haven’t seen you around lately.”
“Well, I haven’t been ‘around’ much lately, you know, with all the broken bones,” I pointed out.
“I know. I sent you flowers, asking if I could come and see you. You never replied.”
“Did you?” I asked, flicking through my memory with a little furrow on my forehead. I didn’t remember seeing a card or a letter from him. But then again, I had been unconscious for days and James had been the one to accept all the gifts during that time. It really shouldn’t surprise me. If there was one, he’d probably torched it the moment he saw it.
Alex seemed to be thinking along the same lines. “Potter being an over-protective git again then?”
When I didn’t say anything to that, he continued: “What happened to the girl I saw last time, the one who told Potter to – to put it lightly since there are children present – get lost?”
“She was just having a bad day,” I replied.
“Pity. I quite enjoyed that girl,” he noted, his grin widening.
I had to bit the insides of my cheeks to stop myself from chuckling. “What are you doing here anyway? I thought you avoided events like this.”
“Easy. I came here to see you.”
I rolled my eyes at that and was just about to explain that he was a little late, that I was seeing someone else. I didn’t get the chance.
“Beat it, Lynch,” a familiar voice commented from behind me and I felt an arm wrap around my shoulders. “There’s nothing for you here.”
Oh lord, not this again.
“Want to bet?” Alex grinned smugly at James. “I mean, thinking about the last time, I’d say the odds are in my favour,” he added with a little wink in my direction. I shook my head at the two of them.
“Oh, I wouldn’t be so sure of that,” James replied. “I don’t think her boyfriend would like that much.”
Alex let out a hem at that, not believing a word James was saying. “And who would that be? You?”
“No,” James said.
“One that you approve then, since you’re actually calling him her boyfriend?” Alex laughed out loud this time. “That’s even harder to believe.”
James was about to respond – something snappish, no doubt – but I had to stop him. This had gone on for too long, especially since there was an audience present. “Alright, let’s end this here. Alex, it was nice seeing you again. James, we need to go now,” I said, giving my best friend a meaningful look when he was about to protest.
He yielded, letting me pull him away from Alex, who was smirking while he turned away too, walking back towards his teammate.
“Why do you always have to let him get to you?” I hissed to James in a whisper, glancing towards the kids who were nearby. They had probably heard every word.
“Because he’s an arsehole, that’s why. And I should’ve punched him harder when I had the chance,” he replied moodily.
“Oh come on, he’s not that bad,” I said, gaining an annoyed glare from James. “I’m serious.”
“Don’t bother saying he’s really nice and if I only got to know him, I would like him. Because I know for a fact that he isn’t.”
“You’re impossible.” I shook my head at him but dropped the subject, knowing it was pointless to continue.
We joined the other Quidditch players, conversing a few moments with two beaters from the Kenmare Kestrels before the Headmaster requested for our attention. He asked the players to sign the brooms they had used before returning them to storage, then explained that we were to do a little tour around the school, visiting our old common rooms and such before heading to the Great Hall where the students would have a chance to ask for our autographs and chat with us.
There was a large group of girls waiting for us near the gates when we exited the pitch, none of whom were dressed to play Quidditch. They wore their best outfits, with high heels and all. I instantly wondered how cold they must be feeling. Without my warm Quidditch gear, I’d had to button my coat as far up as it went and steal James’s scarf.
Some of the girls were holding out notepads and quills, and they were all whispering to each other, fluttering their eyelashes at certain players among us. It didn’t take a seer to guess who received the majority of those dreamy glances.
The professors had to remind the girls that they would have a chance to ask for autographs later, after our tour. Most of them relented, tiptoeing back towards the castle in a hurry, but a smaller group stayed, following in our footsteps when we eventually headed towards the school.
In the entrance hall the professors divided us into four groups, according to our houses. James and I were joined by four other players, one of whom we had played with on the Gryffindor house team.
James looked quite happy when Alex joined the largest group that was heading towards the Hufflepuff common room, led by the Headmaster himself. I was even happier that I didn’t have to witness any more of their glaring match.
We followed a professor whose name I couldn’t remember through the corridors. We visited the dungeons and then the lower floors where we got to peek into some of our old classrooms. The Hospital wing was our next stop, a very familiar place to every single one of us, I was sure.
Eventually, after a long walk around the gigantic castle, we stopped in front of a portrait that everyone in our group knew very well.
“Welcome, old Gryffindors,” the fat lady greeted us in a theatrical way, holding herself in a prim posture.
“Treecreeper,” the professor said immediately, apparently telling the portrait the required password.
The fat lady stared at him for a while, then nodded, looking a little indignant that she was bypassed so easily. But she said nothing, swinging the portrait open so our group could pour inside. Until we reached her.
“You I remember,” she said, glancing at James. “Kept me awake with your nightly runs, didn’t you?”
James grinned amusedly. “I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.”
The fat lady huffed. “Surely not, but one of the worst nevertheless.” She shook her head as we continued through the portrait hole, muttering something about rude behaviour. I wasn’t sure if she meant only James, or the professor too.
I was about to comment on that but the sight of the Gryffindor common room brought an irrepressible smile to my lips. I had so many fond memories of it, from a time when everything was so much easier. I glanced around, soaking up the happy feeling.
There were students scattered around the room, all staring at us. I spotted the tiny girl from the pitch sitting on one of the armchairs. She blushed when she saw me looking, but waved a little nonetheless. I smiled at her.
James noticed it. “Aww, that’s cute. She kept babbling about how happy she was to have met you. Almost too excited to do any of the exercises. But she was a really good flyer! Reminded me a lot of you,” he said.
“Good. She was really sweet.”
He grinned at me. “See, the fans aren’t some evil reincarnation of Voldemort like you always seem to think. They can actually be pretty cool.”
I rolled my eyes. “I never said that.”
“I know,” he admitted. “But you never interact with them either.”
We signed a few autographs there and talked to some of the students before the professor suggested that we could go up to check our old dormitories. I was about to follow James and the other boys, but I wasn’t allowed. Some girls I had seen earlier at the pitch grabbed my arms, leading me up the girls’ staircase. So I ended up showing them the room on the fourth landing, identifying the first bed on the right as mine. I didn’t mention how I had barely spent any time in it or the whole room, usually staying in with James, Freddy and Hayden, sleeping on their floor.
“They had to replace Freddy’s bed,” James told me a moment later back in the common room, his eyes sparkling with amusement. “Apparently they could never get rid of the crude little markings he left there.”
“I wish I could’ve gone there, too. That was more my dormitory than the one I got to see.”
“What, you didn’t like the girls’ dormitories then? Didn’t you reminisce about all the good times you spent there?” he asked, grinning as he already knew the answer.
I chuckled. “Oh yes. ‘This is the bed they assigned me on my first day and this is how much dust and cobwebs were on it at the end of our last…’”
“And yet you wondered why the other Gryffie girls in our year thought you were sleeping with one of us.”
“Well, I did prove them wrong. They all saw me punch Hayden.”
A few of the younger Gryffindors came to us then, asking for more autographs, so our discussion was interrupted. We talked to them for a while before one of the professors announced it was time to continue our tour.
We visited the top floors, the Astronomy Tower and such. We even saw Peeves on the way and had to escape him and his giant water balloons.
“Do you think they’d miss us if we made a little detour to the kitchens? I want to say hi to Kreacher,” James whispered to me when we were on our way back towards the Great Hall.
“I don’t think so. With the secret passages, I think we could make it there and back before they were downstairs.”
We deliberately slowed our pace, letting the others get past us. None of them seemed to realise what we were doing. When Samuel Wilkins – the seeker of Ballycastle Bats who was three years above us and the captain of the Gryffindor house team in his Seventh Year – passed us, I glanced behind me to see if that was all. But I was disappointed. The same group of giggling girls we had seen earlier was still following us – well probably James – and they weren’t showing any signs of getting ahead of us.
“It doesn’t matter,” James said, noticing them as well. “If they follow us, we can easily lose them.”
But it wasn’t that easy.
When we reached the right corridor, James and I slipped from the bigger group, avoiding attention from everyone else except the whispering girls. As expected, they came after us, following a little way behind.
We took a few additional turns, trying to lose the girls in the labyrinthine corridors of the castle we knew so well. But we had underestimated our stalkers – it was their school too, after all.
“How the hell did they know about this one?” James whispered angrily, when we hurried down the dark, sloping secret passage, hearing the annoyingly familiar clicking footsteps behind us. “This is one of the few that’s still supposed to be secret!”
I shook my head, not knowing how to respond, I was as surprised as he was. The tittering group had managed to tag along astoundingly well.
“We need a better plan,” I heard James mutter as he pushed the grubby, old tapestry aside so we could exit the passage. But if he thought of one, he didn’t share it with me. I just hurried along beside him, trying to memorize this part of Hogwarts as well as I could.
There was one ‘secret’ passage coming after a few corners that would lead us where we wanted to go, but I was certain the girls knew about that one, too. No, our best hope would be that they didn’t know how to enter the kitchens.
My ponderings were interrupted when we turned around the next corner and James grabbed my hand, nudging me forward. “Run,” he whispered.
I obeyed immediately. A few moments later I could hear the hurrying footsteps behind us, but the girls with their high heels and us with our sneakers – they didn’t have a chance of keeping up with us.
I hurried next to James, letting him guide me forward, pretty sure he was leading us towards the passage that led down to the kitchen corridor. But I was wrong.
”In here!” James said suddenly, grabbing me by my shoulders and pushing me sideways through a door he’d just opened.
I stumbled into a tiny broom closet. It was dusty and looked like it hadn’t been used in years, but more importantly it was so small that I barely had enough room to turn around in it. There was no way we could both fit in there. I spun around quickly to protest, but didn’t get the chance when James just stepped in, pushing me closer to the shelf and pulling the door shut after him.
Petrified – that would be the perfect word to describe what I was feeling at that moment. James’s body was pinning me against the shelves, leaving no space between or around us. I couldn’t move or even breathe – all I could do was thank Merlin it was so dark that James couldn’t see my expression.
“They should assume we used the passage,” I heard him say. “Hopefully they won’t think to look in here.”
I let out a weird sound as agreement. No coherent words could come out of my mouth. I was in heaven. Or hell. I didn’t really care.
His warm breath tickled my skin and I could feel his every muscle against my chest. I was very, very aware that his hands were leaning against the shelf on both sides of my head. I didn’t even know what to do with my own; they were just hanging by my sides as I had no place to put them.
Another problem was where to look. I couldn’t keep my head straight, looking towards him, because then our faces would’ve been too close together. My eyes were in a direct line with his lips, and that would’ve been torture. So I turned my head to the side, staring at the shelves, only glancing in his direction from time to time.
It was like my dreams from the last two years of school had suddenly come true. Back then I would’ve given anything to be in a situation like this. But now, I didn’t know what to think.
I forced all those feelings back to the small corner of my mind where I had been hiding them for the past few weeks. I needed to stay as calm as possible and not let him see how tense I was. Quickly conjuring thoughts about Joshua in my head, I tried to distract myself with him and the surprise he had promised.
James chuckled suddenly. “I have to say, this does bring back memories.”
My eyes hadn’t adjusted to the darkness completely, but due to the proximity of his lips, I could see the amusement on them.
“Oh?” was all I could comment.
“Well I did spent quite a lot of time in cabinets like this one,” he said, his grin only widening at the thought.
“Slut,” I muttered back, unable to hide my smile.
“Oi!” he protested, glancing down at me.
“It’s true! Even the fat lady knew it.”
He laughed. “Hmm, maybe… but don’t tell me you never did it,” he pointed out.
I snorted at that, turning my head a little in his direction as I turned to look at him. “Are you serious? You really think I would’ve wanted to condemn some poor boy to his death?”
The amusement disappeared from his expression and was replaced with a small frown. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Oh come on, James! One of you hexed a boy who dared to hold my hand in the common room because you guys didn’t like the way he couldn’t keep his fingers to himself!”
“We weren’t that bad!” My best friend pouted his lips, trying to look offended.
“Tell that to Owen! He never dared to be in the same room with me again.”
“Hmph. Well, I never liked him anyway,” he muttered as a response.
“You never like any of the guys! I think you just proved that with Alex. So you really think I would’ve risked somebody’s life and let them take me to a broom closet when I knew you guys were keeping an eye on me on that brilliant map of yours?” I asked.
I didn’t have to see it, I knew perfectly well that he blushed at my words.
“How did you know that?”
“Freddy speaks under torture,” I revealed.
“I’m going to kill him.”
“Sure you are.”
He murmured something I didn’t hear, but before I could ask, he opened his mouth again. “So you mean you’ve never snogged anyone in a broom closet?” he questioned.
“Nope, never,” I answered truthfully. I had been more cunning than that, finding places they wouldn’t suspect. “Only time when I’ve been in one was when we were hiding from the prefects. Although I could swear that one was a lot bigger than this.”
“Are you feeling uncomfortable?” he asked immediately and tried to shift his position so he wasn’t pushing me against the shelf so hard.
“No, no, not at all,” I hurried to say.
The smug grin rose to his lips at that. “Ah, so you like being in a broom closet with me?”
I rolled my eyes. “Sure, who else would I want to be in here with?”
“Oh I don’t know, maybe someone you’d want to snog?”
Answer is still you…
Urgh! Shut up, brain!
But what do you answer to a question like that when you can’t tell the truth?
“Yeah, you’re right,” I muttered back. “I did always want to do that.”
He made a face at me, huffing as a response.
The silence fell for a couple of seconds and I could feel his eyes examining me. I tried to ignore it and stared at the random objects on the shelves. They weren’t really that interesting, but I just couldn’t look at James when we were this close. Seriously, he was too gorgeous for his own good, and I didn’t want to get lost in that again.
“So are you saying that you wanted to kiss somebody in a broom closet but you never got the chance because of us?” James finally broke the silence.
I wanted to groan. Couldn’t he just let go of the subject already?
But since I had to say something, I nodded, still avoiding the burning look of his eyes. “Pretty much so.”
“Maybe I should make it up to you then…” His voice was barely a whisper, but the words echoed in my ears louder than ever.
My head snapped back in his direction immediately, tilting up so I could stare him in the eyes, my mind trying to figure out what he meant with that – had I imagined the suggestive tone in his voice? My heart was practically beating through my chest and I tried to hide it from my expression even though he could probably feel it perfectly well. But if he did, he didn’t show it. He just kept staring at me, waiting for me to say something.
I cleared my throat. “Now how could you possibly do that?” I said, disguising my nervousness in a laugh. “I’m sorry, James, but I’m not interested in making out with some school kid. Or the professors! Can you imagine what…” I started, but never got to tell him what he should imagine because at that moment the whole broom closet exploded.
Well no, not really.
Nothing blew up, my brains just decided to stop forming any rational thoughts, scattering them all around my head as the paralysis worked its way through my entire body again. I didn’t even know which way was up, because my entire concentration was on the pair of softest lips in the world that had suddenly crashed against mine.
A/N: Gasp! Did that actually just happen? Did he just kiss her after 23 chapter? I think he did. But more importantly, what will happen next? Any guesses?
Am I awesome or what for updating so quickly? But I wanted to, because you had such a long wait between chapters 21 & 22, and because the last one was kind of a filler. And because it's almost Christmas, and then the queue closes, and because it's my birthday soon. And because I wanted you guys to read it ^^ So many good reasons!
Once again thanks to CambAngst for being the most awesome beta ever. You should all check his stories out, because they are far more amazing than mine ^^
Until next time. Happy Holidays!
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